Facing the charge of genocide

Milosevic: Broader indictments are needed to include atrocities in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

September 06, 2001

THE INDICTMENT of Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity in Kosovo is being expanded to cover crimes in Croatia and Bosnia, and elevated to the most serious crime, genocide, in the latter. The Hague's case against Serbia's former dictator will be complete.

The crimes are systemic -- or they are not the crimes alleged. The pattern covered the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo -- or it was not a pattern. Mr. Milosevic was the top figure in the chain of command for all three -- or it was not a chain of command.

To indict Mr. Milosevic for the lesser part of crimes by subordinates would be incomplete. Bosnian Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic was convicted of genocide in the slaughter of at least 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica in 1995. Whose orders did he take?

Having declared her intent to bring the broader indictments by Oct. 1, Swiss chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is under the gun from British presiding Judge Richard May to bring a speedy trial on the first indictment. She will not get another full year to prepare.

Until the trial begins, the prisoner Milosevic may be winning in the court of world opinion. He disputes the U.N. tribunal's legitimacy because the Security Council rather than General Assembly established it, though he agreed to it in the 1995 Dayton peace accords. He refuses defense counsel in court, while consulting it in jail, as though to deny himself a fair trial.

Mr. Milosevic, educated as a lawyer, is brilliant at guerrilla theater. He may score points with Serbian people and the apologists for ethnic cleansing -- until the trial starts and the evidence is presented. Then he will either answer it, or be seen not to answer it.

Serbia's current leadership is divided on the trial.Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica repudiates it while Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic insists on cooperating. When the evidence starts to become public, most Serbs are likely to be converted to Mr. Djindjic's position. That's part of why it must go forward.

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